Sailors from Vestas 11th Hour Racing have witnessed the devastating impact plastic pollution can have on the marine environment after visiting a turtle sanctuary and rehabilitation centre in Brazil.
Simon Fisher, Stacey Jackson and Jena Mai Hansen learned about how single-use plastics are taking their toll on iconic species such as green, loggerhead and leatherback turtles.
The centre’s aim is to educate people on how the species, which date back around 220 million years are affected by eating plastic debris in the sea off the Brazilian coast.
They were told how an autopsy on a green turtle revealed it to have three kilogrammes of plastic – an astonishing 3000 pieces – in its stomach.
Jena Mai Hansen, said: “As soon as the plastic is in the turtle’s stomach they aren’t able to dive so plastic is a really big issue that can ruin their lives. Their home is the ocean that we are sailing on. They’ve been here for millions of years, they’re practically like dinosaurs so it’s our job to help protect them.”
Simon Fisher added: “This species suffers a lot from plastic pollution, industrial fishing and, for me, visiting the turtle sanctuary is an important way of seeing and understanding how important it is to reduce out plastic consumption.”
Australian Stacey Jackson described how she was shown a jar that was full of plastic found inside one turtle.
She said: “It’s scary to think that they are eating the plastic that makes its way into the water. This clearly shows that plastic is a massive problem.
“I would hate to think that in the future you could sail around the world and you wouldn’t see another turtle, whale, dolphin or any of the other amazing creatures that inhabit our oceans. The work that turtles sanctuaries do is something we all need to support.”
Cibele Sanches works on a boat that takes divers to Marine Protected Area (MPA) Marinha do Arvoredo, 50km south of the Volvo Ocean Race stopover city.
Only about 4% of the world’s oceans are protected but by being off limits to commercial fishing, diving and all other human activity, they allow marine life to flourish.
Despite this even there they are not free from marine debris. In the area, Cibele has spotted plastic bags, fishing line and nets floating in the water and has even seen TVs and fridges, carried to the sea from inland rivers,
Cibele said: “Turtles confuse plastic bags with jellyfish and eat them which is obviously very harmful. We’re finding turtles that are really underweight because they cannot eat normal food.”
She described she once saw a turtle floating in the water near the pier from which the dive boats depart.
She said: “We pulled it out of the water and found plastic had passed through its digestive system and was coming out the other end of its body. It also had algae growing on its shell because it had been unable to dive below the surface for such a long time.
“We managed to clean its shell but didn’t try to dislodge the plastic from the back of its body for fear of causing it further damage. It swam away and was able to submerge but we were so shocked by the fact that it had been in that state for a long time.
“By promoting the message that we should not using single-use plastic, turtle sanctuaries offer an essential platform to educate people so they can form part of the solution.”